Sunday, October 13, 2013
What we learned: Week 7
By Josh Moyer
Lesson learned from Penn State's 43-40 quadruple OT win against Michigan in Week 7:
1. Penn State can make plays when it needs to, after all: Against Central Florida, the defense couldn't make a key stop when it needed. With Indiana, the team imploded when it counted in the fourth quarter. But against the best team it's played so far? It couldn't have asked for much more. Christian Hackenberg led the team on a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive with 50 seconds left in regulation. And, in overtime, defensive tackle Kyle Baublitz was able to help block a Michigan field goal to keep the game going. Before this contest, the Nittany Lions seemed to fall apart against better competition. They proved this game they're capable of overcoming the odds -- time and time again -- to get the win.
2. Bill Belton is a critical part to this offense: Is he the best running back on the team? That's certainly worth debating now. When Zach Zwinak fumbled, Belton watched his workload increase dramatically -- and he made the most out of it. He showed patience when it was needed, he held onto the ball, and he made an impact on the passing game. He greatly underachieved last season, but there's really no question about it in 2013: He's a valuable member of the offense. And, heading into the next game, it'll be interesting to see how he and Zwinak share carries.
3. Bill O'Brien will stick to those fourth-down attempts no matter what: Penn State's head coach couldn't be blamed if he felt a bit gun-shy after a first-quarter risk that didn't pan out. But in the fourth overtime, when he needed just a short field goal to tie, he decided to once again go for it on 4th-and-1. Belton waited and then found an opening to gain 3 yards and complete the conversion, but it was a gutsy move. "I felt like it was time for someone to win the game," O'Brien matter-of-factly said afterward. If O'Brien thinks he can win a game by not going for a field goal, expect him to go for the first down -- no matter what. We knew before he loved going for it on those fourth downs, but the game against Michigan took that to another level.
4. This defensive line is good, even without Deion Barnes:Anthony Zettel started in Barnes' place, and the line got a tremendous push all night. Barnes has struggled early on this season, and defensive coordinator John Butler wanted to send him a message. It certainly seemed to work. The Wolverines tried to establish a running game, but they only picked up yards when Devin Gardner scrambled. (Michigan's tailbacks combined for 28 yards on 30 carries.) DE C.J. Olaniyan finished with 2.5 sacks and had the best game of his career, while DT DaQuan Jones routinely clogged up the middle. There are plenty of question marks with the secondary and the depleted group of linebackers, but this line is the defense's strength. And it was a big reason for the win.